The Politics of Hypocrisy
The news is no more from Burma. The young monks are quiet in their cells, or they are dead. But words have escaped: the defiant, beautiful poetry of Aung Than and Zeya Aung; and we know of the unbroken will of the journalist U Win Tin, who makes ink out of brick powder on the walls of his prison cell and writes with a pen made from a bamboo mat - at the age of 77. These are the bravest of the brave. What shame they bring to those in the west whose hypocrisy and silence helps to feed the monster that rules Burma.
Condoleezza Rice comes to mind. "The United States," she said, "is determined to keep an international focus on the travesty that is taking place in Burma." What she is less keen to keep a focus on is that the huge American company, Chevron, on whose board of directors she sat, is part of a consortium with the junta and the French company, Total, that operates in Burma's offshore oilfields. The gas from these fields is exported through a pipeline that was built with forced labour and whose construction involved Halliburton, of which Vice-President Cheney was chief executive.
For many years, the Foreign Office in London promoted business as usual in Burma. When I interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi a decade ago I read her a Foreign Office press release that said, "Through commercial contacts with democratic nations such as Britain, the Burmese people will gain experience of democratic principles." She smiled sardonically and said, "Not a bit of it."
In Britain, the official PR line has changed; Burma is a favourite New Labour "cause"; Gordon Brown has written a platitudinous chapter in a book about his admiration of Suu Kyi. On Thursday, he wrote a letter to Pen, waffling about prisoners of conscience, no doubt part of his current empty theme of "returning liberty" when none can be returned without a fight. As for Burma, the essence of Britain's compliance and collusion has not changed. British tour firms - such as Orient Express and Asean Explorer - are able to make a handsome profit on the suffering of the Burmese people. Aquatic, a sort of mini-Halliburton, has its snout in the same trough, together with Rolls-Royce and others that use Burmese teak.
When did Brown or Blair ever use their platforms at the CBI and in the City of London to name and shame those British companies that make money on the back of the Burmese people? When did a British prime minister call for the EU to plug the loopholes of arms supply to Burma. The reason ought to be obvious. The British government is itself one of the world's leading arms suppliers. Next week, the dictator of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, whose tyranny gorges itself on British arms, will receive a state visit. On Thursday the Brown government approved Washington's latest fabricated prelude to a criminal attack on Iran - as if the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan were not enough for the "liberal" lionhearts in Downing Street and Whitehall.
And when did a British prime minister call on its ally and client, Israel, to end its long and sinister relationship with the Burmese junta? Or does Israel's immunity and impunity also cover its supply of weapons technology to Burma and its reported training of the junta's most feared internal security thugs? Of course, that is not unusual. The Australian government - so vocal lately in its condemnation of the junta - has not stopped the Australian Federal Police training Burma's internal security forces.
Those who care for freedom in Burma and Iraq and Iran and Saudi Arabia and beyond must not be distracted by the posturing and weasel pronouncements of our leaders, who themselves should be called to account as accomplices. We owe nothing less to Burma's bravest of the brave.
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